Friday, January 22, 2010

Shifting Sands, Turbulent Waves

Nothing stands still for very long in the technology world and we do our best to build platforms that can "surf the wave" of change and keep running.

The European Union gave its approval to the acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle this week. It's been a long time coming. I believe Oracle announced the merger in April 2009.

A bit sad for me as I've had a lot of my career fortunes tied up in Sun for 20 years or so. After taking an unconscionable beating in the 80's as a developer for Commodore's Amiga, followed by Steve Jobs' NeXT, I settled comfortably into the 90's engineering Sun's hardware and Solaris operating system in more technical and scientific environments.

Sun was a major supporter of SETI@Home. I met Scott McNealy a few times and actually got to know Andy Bechtolsheim well enough to get him to give us some early Thumper systems. Knowing Solaris, their premier UNIX operating environment, seemed to endear me to a lot of organizations and keep me working.

Now the Sun is setting. What that means for the future of ComputeSpace is still anyone's guess. After thorough analysis and benchmarking we architected our platform on OpenSolaris, Java, and Sun hardware.

Larry Ellison, the Oracle himself, has set up a press conference for the 27th to foretell the future. We'll be listening closely.

When I showed up at Berkeley in '91, the three hardware platforms I needed to know to survive in scientific computing were Sun, SGI, and Cray.

Opened up my email this morning to find notice of Cray's filing with the FCC. It looks as if about 12% of the company is now owned by Wells Fargo. In these turbulent financial times that's certainly a concern.

First Sun gets taken over by baseheads and now Cray at the mercy of the moneychangers.

And poor SGI was eaten alive last year by business mainstreamer Rackable, who promptly changed their name to SGI to bask in the techie glow a little bit.

At the time we were in discussions with SGI to use one of their technologies in ComputeSpace, but Rackable made the cost too high and sent us home to roll our own solution.

So the sands are shifting again and the waves are getting very rough. We've all been good at surfing them for a couple of decades now, but, we wonder, will we ride the next big one all the way into shore or will we get drowned out here?

When I was at Cittio and we were under extreme pressure on projects, Ross Fujii used to say "...But you know, we love it! Fighting for our lives".

I have a slightly different point of view. Ross, we're doin' it. We're not diggin' it but we're doin' it. Everyday. Fighting for your life everyday doesn't make you a better company. It just makes sure you're around long enough to become a better company.

So the sands are shifting and the waves are crashing and I'm mixing metaphors like there's no tomorrow. But of course, there is a tomorrow. And we expect to be in it, busily teaching science to the 21st century.

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